Arguably the second most important part of a sailboat is it’s rig (coming in just after a sound hull). After all the steps to sailing look something like:
1) Keep air in the boat and water out
2) Scoop wind with sail to move boat
3) Smile and crack open a beer, you are sailing!
Then why do we neglect our rigs?!
Well, a healthy fear of heights is probably one reason. A lack of understanding and a belief in mysticism might be another. But I would venture to guess the seemingly overwhelming yard costs associated with stepping and unstepping a mast is probably the main reason.
Maybe I’m generalizing, but of all the sailors I know (several of whom talk about going offshore) few have intimate knowledge of their rigs. This should raise eyebrows.
What is it made of? What sort of fittings are used on the boat? When was it last inspected? Is it original? How many years are recommended between inspections? If something breaks, what do you do?
After going electric, we are pretty much counting on our rig to get us around the world. No if ands or buts about it, it has to stay up. Knowing that we can’t afford to put a new rig on Cinderella, we better make damn sure we do everything we can to keep it standing so we can manage steps 2 and 3 from above. Afterall, sailing is supposed to be fun, right??
Where do you start? Well the previous owner is probably a good place. If they weren’t to knowledgeable, maybe the owner previous to them. If that doesn’t work, try a rigger.
We did both, and oddly enough it was the rigger that was able to put us in touch with the PO who raced Cinderella all those years ago. What we found out was invaluable. We knew when the mast was installed, the specs, who did the install, when it was inspected, the age of the halyards (and that they needed replacing ASAP), the sail inventory, when to use those sails, and much much more. We are fortunate Cindy’s PO was very knowledgeable and willing to share everything he knew.
Where does that leave us? Well Cinderella still has a nasty leak around the mast, and we have a 20 year old rod rig with the life expectancy of (get this) 20 years! Now Navtec rod rigs can last up to 50 years or more if properly taken care of, but the only way to know anything is to take it apart piece by piece and have a look for ourselves.
So that’s what we did. I decided to take a week off work and we would have the mast unstepped and set up in the local boatyard where I could work away until she was ready to go back in.
We convinced some friends to come along, offering the breakfast, wine, and beer, in exchange for help and photo skills.
Before this, I have never pulled a rig before, this is where research and the PO come in handy. It turns out, Cinderella has a stock Express 34 rig built by Ballenger Spar Systems in CA and the PO knew where the balance point of the rig was, and outlined the steps of removal for us.
They looked something like this:
Prior to arriving at boatyard
1) Remove boom, vang, sails, and any appendages connected to the mast itself (leaving the halyards, you don’t want to have to fish those through later)
2) Disconnect any wiring to mast VHF cable, wind instrument cables, light cables and so on
3) Lubricate all turnbuckles and make sure they turn freely (you do not want to be stuck unseizing turnbuckles when yard fees are $100/hr)
Upon arrival at boatyard
4) Let the crane operators begin supporting the mast from its balance point (on our rig, that is just below the bottom spreaders)
5) Go around and loosen all turnbuckles completely (Cinderella’s mast is keel stepped and will stand upright without any rigging attached
6) Disconnect all standing rigging and tie of to the mast
7) Double check all running rigging is disconnected from the boat (we forgot this one)
7) Have crane operator do their thing and watch in wonder as the mast slowly lifts out of your boat.
8) Cover hole left by mast removal with something (we used a plastic bag and duck tape.
That’s it! It really isn’t a complicated procedure, and the crane operators have done this hundreds if not thousands of times. The weirdest part is motoring your boat back to your slip without the mast in place, no more requesting bridge opening!
Follow along on the next step where we replace the halyards, take the turnbuckles apart, inspect the rod ends, and add spreader lights!